Treating 'raw' water to drinking water standards is a more complex, expensive and energy intensive process than most people realise.
Water is abstracted usually from rivers which begin on high ground and flow through farmland and built up areas, often collecting unwanted ingredients along the way.
Of course, any unwanted elements are removed from your tap water during the treatment process. We do this using ultra-violet light, settlement and treatment processes such as Granular Activated Carbon, which removes pesticides.
The aim of Upstream Thinking is to prevent pesticides, nutrients and other pollutants from getting into rivers in the first place. This puts less pressure on water treatment plants, allowing the process to be faster, cheaper, more efficient and better for the wider environment as they use less energy and carbon. This improved water quality also helps wildlife to thrive.
Upstream Thinking brings many benefits to biodiversity both on land and in our waters.
Catchment management is all about managing land and water in harmony. And if we do this, wildlife can begin to recover. For example, one change we recommend is to introduce 'buffer strips' next to rivers to filter run-off and clean it before it runs into the watercourse. Buffer strips can be planted with nectar-rich plants, which bees, butterflies and birds appreciate. Fish and invertebrates are more likely to breed and thrive in the cleaner water, providing food for otters and kingfishers.
The work done by the Exmoor Mires amd the SW Peatland partnerships creates new habitats in the pools or water gathered by peat blocks. This allows the growth of more water rich plants like SPHAGNUM Moss and also encourages animals such as Dragonflies, Frogs and Otters.
Above all, Upstream Thinking is about people.
Whether farmer, farm adviser, wildlife conservationist a water company customer or someone who enjoys the countryside for recreation, the benefits of Upstream Thinking are there for all.
The success of the programme is based on strong relationships between farmers and farm advisors. Farmer Andrew Jones, from Launceston, said: "It really helped that Ross (UST farm advisor) is a farmer himself so we were able to discuss the issues in detail, farmer to farmer."
Paul Cottington, Environment Adviser for the National Farmers Union in the South West, said: "Farmers across the South West are recognising that the land they farm provides multiple services for society, including clean water, and they are investing time and money in measures like these that will help protect water sources for the future."
Peat bogs are known as “carbon sink” meaning that they draw in carbon dioxide air through plant growth peat accumulation. This helps to reduce the effect that these greenhouse gasses are having on the planet. As a damaged and drained peat bog dries out the peat oxidises and loses its ability to hold those greenhouse gasses. The work from Exmoor Mires Partnership in restoring these peatlands is allowing the peat bogs to gain the water they need to recover and once again become carbon sinks.
Research carried out on the moor by the University of Exeter has also shown that restored bogs release a third less water during storms and 30% less dissolved organic carbon from the peat.
Flood Risk Management
Restoration of peat bogs on Exmoor has resulted in a third less water leaving the restoration areas during heavy rainfall.
By blocking up drainage ditches, the moorland can now hold more water and release it more slowly, reducing potential flooding elsewhere.
In order to evaluate whether the restoration program has been successful so far, Professor Richard Brazier and his team of researchers at the University of Exeter were tasked with monitoring the hydrology, water quality and carbon storage within two experimental sites located on Exmoor.
Extrapolated across the whole 2000 hectares of restored moorland - which was the 2015 target for the Exmoor Mires Project - the results indicated that the amount of storm water running off this moorland has reduced by a third, the equivalent of more than 6,630 Olympic-size swimming pools less water entering downstream rivers.
It also indicates potential increased water storage in the peat of 260,000 cubic metres. Put another way, that a reservoir of 104 Olympic-sized swimming pools ready for filling when it rains, and all acting as a header tank on top of the river Exe keeping the flows in the river going during dry periods.
Prof Brazier said: "Across the experimental site we are seeing a rise in water table levels of up to 2.65cm that can be attributed to the ditch blocking and moorland restoration.
"This enhanced water storage could, when replicated across the whole of Exmoor, provide a significant buffer against downstream flooding in rivers like the Exe."
The water will still flow out to sea in time, but not in a flood peak.